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New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons before Question Period, in Ottawa on Feb. 5.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

This week will mark the high-water mark for the Liberal-NDP deal, with framework legislation for pharmacare and coverage for a few key drugs, notably for birth control and diabetes.

And with that comes the beginning of the end of the Liberal-NDP alliance.

Once the fruits of this latest deal on pharmacare are harvested, there won’t be many high-profile, politically-saleable things left in the supply-and-confidence deal that is still to be delivered. In a political sense, the alliance hasn’t got a lot left to justify its existence.

For two years, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has told Canadians that his party is propping up the Liberal minority government because of the policy concessions in the agreement. But now, both parties know that the clock is ticking. Politically, they are going to have to starting fighting each other.

The latest Nanos Research tracking poll, released Tuesday morning, places the Liberals just 1.3 percentage points ahead of the NDP. It found the Conservatives at 40.8 per cent, the Liberals at 23.4 per cent, and the NDP at 22.1 per cent. (The rolling four-week telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)

Liberals who remember the 2011 election campaign know that falling behind the NDP would spell doom for the Grits. New Democrats know that getting their noses in front, even by a couple of percentage points, will weaken the Liberal appeal to progressive voters to back them to stop the Conservatives – and it would make the prospect of an early election a lot more palatable for the NDP.

Once the latest pharmacare deal is implemented, the politicking over the end of the supply-and-confidence agreement will begin. In the meantime, there will almost certainly be politicking on the time it takes to implement that pharmacare deal. There will be new demands, more pressure and more risk of betrayal. Voters’ judgement of the Liberal-NDP supply-and-confidence agreement will be heavily coloured by how it ends.

The deal itself has had lots of critics from the get-go, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in particular has lumped them together as a costly coalition.

From the NDP’s perspective, it has delivered substantial policy accomplishments, including a dental-care plan, framework legislation for pharmacare and now pharmacare coverage for a few of the most widely-used drugs. But they haven’t reaped much in the way of political rewards. At least not yet.

The Liberals fell in the polls, the Conservatives went up and the NDP had stayed more of less the same. The NDP need the Liberals to fall a little further so they can gain “progressive” ground. The Liberals risk collapse if that happens.

Mr. Singh has argued that it’s worth keeping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in power to extract policy concessions. In fact, the main point the NDP leader made Monday about this latest pharmacare agreement is that Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals would never have done any of it if New Democrats hadn’t forced them.

But once the pharmacare stuff is done – if it ever is – that logic requires New Democrats have to keep demanding more things. And the Liberals would have to keep making concessions.

That amounts a whole new unstable game of regular re-negotiation of the supply-and-confidence agreement in which each party runs the risk of looking like their weakness is making them compromise their principles further.

That’s particularly tricky when both parties are now at a point where they have to start looking at each other as political rivals more than policy partners.

The main thing holding the agreement together now is the time it will take to deliver on the things that are supposedly done, notably delivering pharmacare-covered birth control and diabetes medications.

The opposition from Alberta and Quebec – which both declared they will not take part in the new federal pharmacare initiative – might drag things out, and keep the alliance stable a little longer.

But the political dynamic requires Mr. Singh to keep demanding that Mr. Trudeau move quickly and deliver on the policy. That, after all, is the thing the NDP is supposed to get out of propping up the Liberals. And if Mr. Singh doesn’t get it, he’ll look like he’s been played for a sucker.

The alliance will go on for months, certainly. But it will grow more and more unstable – as the negotiations become tougher and political rivalry makes both parties worry about how it might end.

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